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Do you sometimes feel that your officiating career has grown stagnant, that your future seems unclear and that you’re not sure where you’re heading — if you’re heading anywhere at all? Other than that vague sense that you’ve gotten stuck, have you devoted any time to planning where you want your career to go? I don’t mean daydreaming of calling the Super Bowl, the NBA Finals and the World Series on the same day. I mean really planning out how you want things to go.

You wouldn’t set out on a South Beach to Anchorage road trip without a GPS, so you shouldn’t get behind the wheel of your career and expect to get where you want to go without laying down a plan.

“When I was a kid, I always went to Don Meyer basketball camps. In addition to all of the great coaching we got, he made us carry a notebook wherever we went,” said Jeb Hartness, an NCAA Division I men’s basketball referee. “He’d lead us in sessions where we had to plan our future and write down specific goals. It helped build our confidence.”

Hartness and Meyer have it right. Setting specific goals and putting them to paper creates a long-term vision and very important short-term motivation. When an individual sets up goals and breaks them down into their components, the goals become something that can be approached on a daily basis. Checking off action steps that lead to goal completion builds confidence that you’re getting where you want to go.

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“I learned very early on that the action of writing my goals down and committing them to paper makes me accountable,” Hartness said. “My goals are no longer just a dream, they are something I am committed to and accountable toward.”

That accountability gets you off the starting line and the action against inertia strengthens your self-confidence. The key is setting up the goals in an organized and directed manner that makes your path clear. That planning is highly personal and you’ll have to get ready to do some real soul searching to make it work.

“You have to decide what you really want to do and where officiating falls into your life,” said Jaime Garcia, El Paso Football Officials Association president. “Early in my career I called football, basketball and baseball. Life changes and I got married and had kids, so my focus shifted. I decided my number-one priority in officiating was to give back to the community. I get a real thrill helping to develop new officials and helping them find their niche.”

For Garcia, it wasn’t about going to the Super Bowl, it was about aligning his activities with what he truly values. To get there, it meant taking note of what meant the most to him. That process is unique to every individual.

“I tell everyone to try to find their niche and you do that by having a variety of different experiences. Work your way up, but also work with as many people and different circumstances as you can,” Garcia says.

Garcia’s goal of giving back to the community through his officiating is an example of formulating a big-picture goal. You may envy that laser-like focus and be jealous that Garcia knew what he wanted, but coming up with lifetime goals takes work.

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Get ready to do brainstorming, self-examination and trial-and-error planning. Use your imagination and turn off the voice in your head that tells you that you can’t do something when you’re doing your goal work.

Seeking out as many experiences as possible is known in psychology circles as reinforcement sampling. Simply put, it is trying different things to determine what you like and it is an excellent strategy to employ when you are unsure of exactly what you want to do.

Don’t expect your path to be smooth and straight, because there will be bumps in the road toward your goals and situations that will make you pause and re-evaluate, and possibly even change your goals.

In order to reach a goal that will take years to accomplish, it is vital to have shorter-term plans that will deliver you down the right road. The lifetime goals can wind up being nothing but a dream if they aren’t broken down into doable components.

Construct five-year goals that address the “lifetime” process, one-year goals to get you headed toward your five-year goals and then organize your time management system to make sure every day or week you’re doing something toward your overall plan. When you build your goals into your daily habits, you develop a clear focus and the confidence that comes with knowing you are on your way.

“I have found that the key to formulating goals is to make them realistic but ambitious. Make them possible but a challenge to reach,” Hartness said.

Hartness is a believer in the SMART goal principle — plans that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound. When goals aren’t clearly defined, purpose-driven and trackable, there are too many rabbit holes you can fall through. Procrastination, ambivalence and staying too close to your comfort zone are traps that keep you from reaching your potential. Following the SMART principle will keep you on track.

“One of the most basic important things about goal setting is to make goals that are grounded in what you can control,” Hartness says. “For instance, don’t make a goal like ‘I want to be assigned to 50 games next season.’ That’s an outcome that you don’t have control over. Instead set goals for self-improvement that will lead to you getting more assignments.”

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Some of those goals might include planning to spend a specific number of hours per week reviewing video, spending time studying conflict resolution to better manage games and getting to assignments at least 30 minutes early. Those behaviors will prepare you to officiate and know the game.

“All of this builds confidence which is so important to being a good official,” Hartness said. “I know when I’ve planned, set goals and followed them I feel more confident, and when I feel more confident I do a better job.”

So much of moving up also involves networking. Be careful, because you need to work to back up the networking or it may work against what you are trying to accomplish. Strive to be the best official you can be while getting out there and meeting as many people as you can in officiating.

As a president of his association, Garcia is in a place to take notice of the up-and-comers. He says there are things the good ones do that would be excellent SMART goals for all officials.

“Know your rulebook inside and out, read your study guides, shine your shoes, iron your uniform, appear physically fit, go to clinics and work with as many different people as you can — are all tasks you can do that you can be in control of,” Garcia says.

They may not be the sexiest goals, but the basic ones that help you become a more competent official are the ones that are most important. They will lead to what you want — more and better assignments. Also, spend some time thinking about ways to let others know about your competence without appearing arrogant and self-serving.

“If you’re not being seen in the field, it is impossible to be noticed,” Garcia said. “Go to important clinics and stay in contact with those you meet and make friends at all different levels, not just those above you.”

Figure out a plan for your officiating career. That’s a goal worth writing down.

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Note: This article is archival in nature. Rules, interpretations, mechanics, philosophies and other information may or may not be correct for the current year.

This article is the copyright of ©Referee Enterprises, Inc., and may not be republished in whole or in part online, in print or in any capacity without expressed written permission from Referee. The article is made available for educational use by individuals.

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